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Figuring out how to Help the Senior Pooch

My dog, Kompis, was only 12½ years old but was already blind and quite senile. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out how to help your senior dog. I’ve been capturing some of our struggles and joys in pictures and video so that I can share them with others who are also struggling, or may be, in the future.

It helps to know there are others out there with the same issues. And, I hope by giving you some behavior tips, it will make the transition a bit easier.

In the first video I released for The Pooch Coach on YouTube for a Senior Moments series, I show how Kompis regularly gets herself stuck in places around my house. These incidents were all from one day, and there were more that day that I didn’t film.

When dogs get senile, one of the first things they lose is the ability to back up. So, when they get stuck behind something, or in a corner, they think there’s no way out.

What I’ve been doing—and suggest others do as well—are twofold: trying to keep Kompis’ independence and spirits up so she won’t feel helpless and keeping her mind working as much as possible.

That means not lifting her up and moving her. This only further confuses blind dogs anyway. I help her solve her own predicaments as much as possible, which is what you’ll see on the YouTube videos.

The second video I posted shows how much joy we continue to find in our lives. I wanted to share how much she still enjoys seeing the people she loves. Her god-dog parents came over one weekend, and I grabbed my phone after a bit so I could capture her little squeals of joy. Watch how happy and excited and energetic she is on YouTube.

When you have an older dog, you can still find things she enjoys. Some still get joy out of food, some find joy greeting other dogs, some like to visit their favorite park or beach, and some find comfort being with their favorite people. Find your dog’s joy, and let her bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart. It’s a win-win.

So far, the main things I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on are:

It’s Tough

You have to be incredibly patient. If you thought having a puppy was tough, it was nothing. Now you have to deal with a dog that was trained and never peed in the house or got in harm’s way and start to do it all over again. But now your dog might be blind and/or deaf.

These guys and girls also move incredibly slowly, so expect everything to take at least twice as long as it used to. If it took three minutes for your dog to pee in the backyard, expect to wait up to 15 minutes now. If your walk around the park took five minutes, plan on 10 to 20 minutes now.

If they ate their food in 30 seconds, be prepared for it to take several minutes, while you help them find it, partially hand-fee them, or even help them stand up the whole time.

If they used to respond to a command the first time you said it, expect it to take two or three more attempts now—if they can hear or understand you at all.

It’s Sad

Watching your dog age is very hard. It might happen quickly or gradually but, one day, you’ll wake up and realize you have a different dog. You’ll notice that he or she doesn’t want to play like he or she used to. These seniors stop being as eager for food or treats, they forget the commands they knew so well, they slip and fall, they bump into things, and/or they get easily confused. They move more slowly, have trouble getting up, and they no longer greet you with the usual exuberant vigor that brought you so much joy at the end of the day. Sometimes, they forget who you are. It’s a difficult thing to go through. Be prepared to cry daily, unless you’re really, really tough.

It’s Exhausting

Expect to be mentally and emotionally drained from dealing with all of this, and take care of yourself.

If your dog has sundowner’s syndrome like mine does, you can be woken up every hour or two all throughout the night. These does sometimes can no longer tolerate being crated—it makes them panic. They pace; they act agitated. It’s awful.

If you’re lucky enough that your dog doesn’t have this issue, she will still most likely need to go to the bathroom more often, so don’t expect her to hold it all night like she used to. Be prepared to get up earlier or in the middle of the night to allow your senior to relieve herself.

Lastly, these dogs wander—they walk off beds and couches and cliffs. Even if they can see a little, their depth perception is off. Add in a bit of senility, and you have a dog that can never be left alone and requires your constantly getting up to checking on her—or saving her from danger. So basically, some of these dogs, including my Kompis, require 24/7 care. It’s more like having a 2-year-old child than a dog at this point. You can’t leave a blind, confused dog alone. It would be cruel.

It’s Hard

Deciding when to let them go is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make. I’ve read dozens of articles on this, and even have experience doing this for my last dog as well as with other people’s pets. But you’re never prepared. Each case is so different. We don’t want them to suffer, but we don’t want to say goodbye too soon. I certainly do not want to put my dog down because she’s inconveniencing me. But I also don’t want her to injure herself and have to rush her to the ER to be hurriedly put down while she’s in pain (and, I promised her no more hospitals or vets). So, I struggle and struggle. I take it day by day. You just have to wait until you know it’s the right time in your heart.

One tip I read often that resonated with me is that it’s better to say goodbye one day or even one week early than one minute too late. I suggest finding a vet that makes house calls. There are many good ones: Blue Sparrow Holistic Veterinary House Calls, Vet on Wheels, Lotus Veterinary House are my personal favorites for vet care as well as for euthanasia. You can have it done in your home or even at your pup’s favorite park or beach. I definitely did not and do not want it done in my home. I want my memories there to be of them being alive and don’t want this memory etched in my mind in my home. Think about what makes you, and, most importantly, your dog, happiest. Plan ahead.

Beverly Ulbrich, “The Pooch Coach,” has been providing expert private dog training and behavioral modification to the SF Bay Area for many years. Seen frequently on TV for her expertise in all things dog related, she also works behind the scenes with dogs for TV, advertising, and movies. Her specialties include dog aggression, fear and anxiety. Her motto is “Any Dog. Any Problem.” Find out more at You can also find The Pooch Coach videos on YouTube. Look for Senior Moments there.

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Main article photo by: Zeussical-Creative Commons